They say the heart is as big as an ocean. A Richard Curtis movie might even make you believe it. Notting Hill with Julia Roberts talking about how simple love is, and Hugh Grant telling her how bloody radiant she looks after two hours in hair and make up.
I’d never tested the limits of my heart, I’d just assumed I was one of those people who was perfect and had boundaryless love. It appears I’m not. When I had a baby my heart became incredibly subjective. Like a reservoir which is only to be used by Wiltshire or a small island in the outer Hebrides. My husband lived in Surrey and no doubt he noticed the water shortages.
Attending my NCT classes like a good mum-to-be and reading my pregnancy books I didn’t get even a tiny plot spoiler that after having a baby I might hate my husband. It’s a better kept secret than Santa. When most romantic plot lines go along the lines of ,’find the man of your dreams and have babies together’ I do think it’s quite ironic that having a baby nearly ruined the first part of that story for me.
To add insult to injury I believed that everyone else was just cracking on with sex and dinners out whilst baby slept and it’s all absolutely ‘fine’ (the most passive aggressive word in the British language).
But movies lie! My babies were passion killers. My husband hated stroking my pregnant baby. Exhaustion was real.
Here’s my story. It starts off fucking awful but it turns good in the end, like a Richard Curtis film (if you like that thing, otherwise it’s absolutely nothing like a Richard Curtis film – did I mention I’m a people pleaser?).
It did feel at points like my husband and I were only together because we were too tired not to be together, which is quite a statement to make. But now I’m the other side I can say that thank God tiredness does have it’s benefits because I do rather love Andy and I’m glad we didn’t kick each other out the house.
I was excited about sharing another part of our story together. Of raising this baby together, for learning something new together. We worked well together, so I had no great concerns.
We all love a foreshadowing. If you didn’t grasp it, there it was. If Richard Curtis were directing this he would request a sudden and dramatic change of music.
As I started to get bigger and more pregnant I didn’t fancy going to late night parties or drinking. I wanted to sit on the sofa and watch One Born Every Minute or The Batchelor. I took up crocheting (no, really, I did). I started to moan a lot about being uncomfortable, being too full, too hungry, too nauseous, too tired, too sore. I needed more hugs and more sympathy and kindness.
Across the sofa from me was my husband who’d lost a bit of his best friend (me). He continued going out with his friends and drinking late into the night (which I assured him was ok because at this point I still thought passive aggression worked). He didn’t suddenly develop the personality of a natural birthing doula nor that of an amazing NHS nurse. His bedside manner was, as it has always been, curt and pragmatic. I started to sense eye rolls when I’d ask for another foot massage or whether he’d come to bed a bit earlier so we could cuddle before I fell asleep. Slowly we were living slightly different rhythms and having different hobbies. Initially I didn’t notice it, but by the end of my pregnancy it was clear as day. I had changed, he hadn’t and the gap between us was getting bigger.
Why does everything come down to sex?
Well, it doesn’t. Because it’s never just sex. It’s intimacy, physical affection and it’s another way of saying ‘ I love you’. We’ve been through all this and we still love each other. It bolsters self worth and it reassures.
I believe men divide themselves into two camps. Those who enjoy sex with a heavily pregnant woman, and men who don’t. You can imagine what camp my husband fell into. He was almost disgusted at the thought of having sex with me with a six month baby bump. He loved the idea of having a baby but didn’t want to feel it moving before it’s birthday.
Was his love and sexual attraction towards me so fickle? Was I SO unattractive? Wasn’t having a baby the ultimate symbol of fertility and life? Apparently not (to Andy).
We talked about it but I didn’t understand. I was also rather fixated about the birth and didn’t want to waste my time discussing relationship issues.
As soon as baby came it felt like a thunderstorm in our house. I suffered some black days and as a result Andy had a pretty bumpy ride into fatherhood. There wasn’t much gazing at the baby and saying ‘how amazing is she! How amazing are we!’ There was just a lot of ‘what have we done? What should we do now?’
Emotionally I felt like a total failure, to the baby, and also my husband. I was embarrassed, I was ashamed, of course I pushed him away with all my best tactics; shouting, irrational behaviour, crying and blame. I was passive aggressive, I was uncommunicative. I jumped to conclusions.
I wanted hugs and sympathy and ‘I know’ and ‘this IS hard’. I wanted justification and to be told I was doing a good job. I wanted emotional support, I wanted physical affection, I wanted to know I was still attractive, I wanted kindness and tenderness and deep deep (bottomless) levels of empathy way beyond what Andy could ever consider is justifiable. I wanted wisdom and experience to prevail, but this was just as much Andy’s first baby as it was mine.
Andy wanted to resolve the situation and therefore would problem solve. Should we feed her like this? Should we try a new sleeping arrangement? All I heard was that there were problems that needed fixing and confirmation that I couldn’t do this by myself.
In the early weeks and months after our first born was born the sex was necessary in reassuring ourselves that we still had ‘something’. I cringe in retrospect at how quickly we jumped at it again. I don’t suspect either of us enjoyed the physical sensation as much as we enjoyed saying ‘we had done it! hurrah for us!’, as if it were something to tick off the list. It is important for me to say that quite honestly, the desire to have sex with anyone, (my husband, Channing Tatum or Giles Coren) didn’t actually reappear for many (many) months….shhhh….a good year!
It was a relentless marathon of not being able to connect, of us not having the time, energy or desire to connect.
By now if you’re pregnant or have a newborn you’re feeling utterly terrified. But this is what all directors do. I planned this feeling (not at the time of course, at the time it was awful and I didn’t have a screenplay to read to see whether ‘it all works out’, I would have fallen asleep after a couple of pages because I was forever falling asleep whilst trying to do something else productive).
But, yes, after all that and through all that, we did find our way back to each other. We did!
That whilst we knew raising our daughter was important, we also needed to make time for each other, we had some shit to work through and it wasn’t going to happen unless we were in the same room as each other without a child and an xbox.
Do you fancy a useful fridge list for ‘other things that helped my relationship after we had a baby?’ No? Ok, well look away;
Talking; I tried to stop the passive aggressive behaviour and instead started trying to communicate directly even if the words got stuck in my throat and my stomach churned. I needed to tell my husband exactly how he could support me, what words to use, how to hug me even if I looked angry, how he needed to stop trying to fix everything and say ‘I know. it’s hard, you’re doing a great job’. Every now and then Andy will still say to me when I’m cooking dinner or booking a family holiday, paying nursery fees, washing milk bottles…folding clothes. He’s say, ‘I see you’. And we laugh, but I love that he’s acknowledging my hard work (and I try to do the same to him as he is very good at tidying and fixing!).
Agreeing to go to bed early together so we could snuggle together before I fell asleep was helpful. It lead to more natural physical contact and intimacy, not that it led to sex in the slightest. But it’s all about the hugs and touches.
I realised I couldn’t rely on my husband for everything. We weren’t characters in a movie. We didn’t complete each other. I’m far to complex and demanding. I needed different people in my life for different things. I needed old friends and new friends. I needed mum friends and definitely-not mum friends. I needed my family and his family. I needed a lady called Hilary who gave me post natal massages and told me hopeful stories about parenthood. I needed a blog for venting my feelings to strangers (I’m strange like that).
We came full circle and by the time my daughter was two years old our relationship was back to where it was, we had intimacy and kindness and sexual connection again.
I was terrified when I got pregnant again. I didn’t know if I could go through all that again.
But it didn’t happen like that. We had both learnt an awful lot. The big thing was that we had more realistic expectation. We both knew I would be tired and physically battered from pregnancy and birth and breast feeding. I would have little energy to give Andy much past ‘could you make me a sandwich’. I wouldn’t have much energy to ask him how his day was, let alone give him sexual favours. I slept in the spare bedroom for nearly three months whilst I breastfed Otis, this worked fantastically well and I felt so well rested and the baby settled into great sleeping routine. I didn’t judge our love for each other by how many times we’d had sex that month (none), I trusted he loved me and we’d find our way back.
I understood that Andy not touching me when I was pregnant was because pregnancy ‘weirded’ him out and it was no a reflection of his love for me.
I reminded Andy I just wanted to be told I was doing a great job and not to fix anything. He did a sterling job on this front.
Eventually we took a small holiday away, just the two of us. I found my best friend again – luckily he was also called Andy and I was married to him. We laughed, I shook off some of the exhaustion and anxiety that often riddles me day to day. We had sex that lasted longer than three and a half minutes (not by much). I saw that there was a whole world out there because sometimes I forget to look up from the left over baked beans on the kids plates.
I looked out at the ocean and I got a sense of perspective for the first time in a very long time. That is what time away does, and that is what experience teaches us, and that is why learning that you can find your partner again after having one baby makes you more sure you can do it a second time around.
Ps. WE DO NOT HAVE A PERFECT RELATIONSHIP. Just the other day we went for dinner but started an argument that meant as soon as they brought our food to the table we had to ask for it to be bagged up in takeaway containers because we needed to shout at each other in privacy. It is our story of realising that our baby drove a wedge between and we had to fight a little bit to remind ourselves of who we were before having a baby. We still struggle, we still don’t have enough time, patience or kindness at times.
Being a lover and a partner is so much more than ‘date night’ it’s about kindness, tenderness and looking out for one another. Lovers are best friends too. Lovers are fallible and make mistakes and need to be forgiven and to learn and grown. Real life is kinda messy, not like a lovely neat ending to a Richard Curtis film (sorry, Richard).